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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

REVIEW: Botany Manor is an accessibly cozy and surprisingly defiant escape room puzzler

Cozy games are hard to define because coziness is different for everyone. Some people find Souls games cozy. Some people think cozy just means farming sim. And some games see cozy as an aesthetic more than anything, even if their gameplay systems are anything but cozy.


Botany Manor, an escape room-like puzzler, may just be one of the truest cozy games out there. By emphasizing accessibility, in more ways than one, and by turning a genre that could easily frustrate most gamers into something calming instead, Balloon Studios has cultivated a plant worth watching grow in Botany Manor.


An in-game screenshot of Botany Manor. It depicts a gardening table where the player takes care of each new plant. A watering can, a bag of potting soil, and a seed drawer can all be seen. A compost bin is attached to the main desk, along with a shelf with a number of pots underneath. This table sits against a fence and is flanked by some larger potted plants.

​Just the Facts

Developer: Balloon Studios

Publisher: Whitethorn Games

Platform(s): PC*, Xbox Series S and X, Nintendo Switch *denotes platform reviewed on

Price: $24.99

Release Date: April 9, 2024

Review key provided by publisher.


The gently compelling nature of watching plants grow


Botany Manor's development garden was tended by the gaming green thumbs at Balloon Studios, a small team founded by Laure De May (Assemble with Care, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure) with the intention of bringing gamers into "peaceful and historical worlds." To help bring that dream to life, they partnered up with the like-minded folks at Whitethorn Games, the indie publishing house that has carved out a niche for cozy games that are built with accessibility in mind.


Easy to see how this particular duo comes out the other end with one of the coziest games we've played in recent history, huh?


Botany Manor tells the story of a retired botanist, Arabella Greene, returning home after her travels, looking to get a book published about the rare flowers she's collected throughout her life and restoring the manor where she grew up in the process. She's got to bring these plants back to life to document them, and cracking those gardening puzzles is the bulk of the experience. As you wander through her manor and its grounds, you'll piece together her life as an adventurer, as a small piece of a giant family, and as an overlooked expert in her field, thanks to 19th-century misogyny.


That last piece adds a simmering layer of defiance to the whole experience, as Arabella Greene defies a lifetime of letters, rejections, and familial pressures to marry, in order to pursue her dreams in any way possible. In a game with such lowkey vibes, with such a purposefully pleasant approach to every aspect of its design, it's fascinating how often it evoked genuine upset. When reading some of these letters telling Arabella to stick to what she's suited for, to settle for a domestic life, and to leave the sciences to the men, it only made my drive to propagate the plants I found scattered throughout the grounds all the stronger.


Another highlight is the dedication to historical accuracy that was a core tenet of Balloon Studio's founding. The depiction of life in an 19th-century English manor is full of fun little details — what other game teaches you about priest holes? — and the scientific approach to the botany on display, despite the fictional plants, makes for a surprisingly educational experience. It's the fun kind of learning of course, with your mind constantly engaged by the puzzles behind each plant and the splashes of magical realism on display as nature explodes around you in mere moments as you bring these plants to life.


There's a slow unraveling of narrative here that feels reminiscent of the structure started in walking sims like Gone Home, where each new plant, each new room of the manor, comes with its own small piece of Arabella's story. There's no voice acting, most of what you learn comes from letters and puzzle clues, and there are no explosive reveals to be found here. But it's gently compelling in ways I didn't expect.


An in-game screenshot of Botany Manor. It depicts the back garden of the Botany Manor, showcasing a path lined by various fruit trees and a box full of children's toys next to the table the player's sitting at in the garden.

Lo-fi escape room puzzles to chill and garden to


Gently compelling is how I'd define a lot of what Botany Manor has in store, as its puzzles, styled like a series of small escape room puzzles across the various rooms of the manor, offer fun brain-tickling challenges but never truly overwhelm you. The process is simple: you find a seedling for a plant, you bring it over to one of the various planting stations found in the manor, you fill a pot with soil, toss the seed in, and do whatever it takes to bring that plant to life. This usually means simulating some part of their natural environment, using tools you find around the manor to fake a hotter climate, for example, or a stormy one.


Like an escape room, it's all about observation, context clues, and pattern recognition. It's the kind of thing that anyone can hop into and enjoy — can feel smart doing. Balloon Studio does a lot of small things to make the sometimes frustrating puzzle game experience as straightforward and accessible as possible.

For starters, Botany Manor makes it simple to keep track of all puzzle-pertinent information; it catalogs every clue you gather as you find them, helping you to differentiate between lore-specific things in the environment and things relevant to solving each puzzle. It even goes a step further, allowing you the opportunity to associate each clue with the puzzle (or plant, in this case) you think it goes with. It helps you to sort out the information laid out in front of you and even clarify that some things you may have otherwise tossed aside as irrelevant are actually important. Most other puzzle experiences would expect you to do this association all on your own, but going the extra step to give you the tools to do that in-game is a welcome addition.


And sure, it makes it a little bit easier but... that's okay.


Botany Manor's puzzles are all straightforward, with more than one document or clue leading you to the same solution for nearly all of your puzzles. Once you have all the clues associated with each puzzle, it doesn't take long to figure out how to get each flower to bloom. Too often, puzzle games feel the need to build some incomprehensible or overly complicated puzzle to help it feel difficult, to feel intellectually stimulating. And that one puzzle often tanks the experience of an otherwise enjoyable puzzler. Botany Manor had no such villain. I personally could have done with more of a challenge, but it's okay to leave it aside sometimes. No two flowers have puzzles that are alike and each has a fun theme to it. Simple, satisfying, and always well crafted.


And on top of all that, it passes all my personal milestones for the genre: I needed to break out a notebook to solve a few puzzles, I verbally had an "aha" moment when the game's one true stumper finally clicked, and even when it was easy, it was always clever. And just when you think you've seen the full bloom of Botany Manor's accessibility, Balloon Studio and Whitethorn Games showcase even more features that make it a game for everyone. All in-game documents have a simple text overlay to make them more readable. There is a motion sickness suite of options. And there's a dedicated "single stick" mode that allows for only half of the controller to be used (or simplifies the system down for external accessibility hardware). And for folks with processing issues, the simpler puzzle structure and lack of external pressures, like timers, makes it a smoother experience than many others.


Seeing accessibility be considered from the start is a dream, and teams like these are leading the way in making it more standard across the industry.


Even when it was easy, it was always clever.

An in-game screenshot of Botany Manor. It depicts one of the game's puzzle clues, a document about the windspeed and pressure levels of a variety of mountains around the world.

Calm, cool, and w-wait it's over?


Knowing you're walking into a game that's removing as much friction from your play experience as possible is a joy. Having every part of its aesthetic design built to match that vibe is even better. Botany Manor is a fairly plain looking game at first glance, evoking the similarly simple flat textured style of a game like The Witness, but it has these moments of stunning painting-like beauty. The game knows it, too, as it scatters chairs and benches everywhere for you to sit in, allowing you the moment to catch your breath and take in the beauty of the manor or the nature around you.


As you take that breather, you might catch one of the light fluttering tracks of the soundtrack pushing to the forefront. Soft piano and strings accompany you in key moments of discovery, as seedlings are gathered and puzzles are solved. It's light, and the game is happy to emphasize the natural soundscape — birdsong and flowing breezes — whenever possible, but it stands out when it does finally emerge from the quiet.


If I had to prune any bad leaves out of this one (I'm so sorry for all these gardening puns), I've got a few personal hang ups. For one, as much as I've praised the straightforward puzzles, I do wish it was a little more challenging. It fits the vibe and it worked for this particular package, and all of the praise I heaped on it above rings true for most gamers, but if you come to your puzzlers looking for challenge, know that Botany Manor delivers a different kind of experience entirely, one that could still be worth your while.


Another small thing: With the calming vibes and breezy puzzles, I was shocked at how quickly the experience passed me by. The game features five chapters that wrapped up in just over three hours. It's a tight package, and it's surprisingly well paced, but I found myself facing the end sooner than I expected. I think I was waiting for some major finale puzzle that brought all the concepts I'd seen together for some conclusive-feeling finish... but that's not what the game was. My issues boil down to me expecting something more traditional out of Botany Manor, when it's surprisingly innovating in the puzzle game space and offering something brand-new in the process. I think those small issues are worth talking about, and warning folks who might approach it the same way to reframe their expectations... and at the end of the day, none of them hold back this game from the greatness it achieves.


An in-game screenshot of Botany Manor. It depicts a 19th century kitchen, with hanging herbs, various dishes lining the shelves, and a smattering of kitchen accessories lining a long kitchen table. Mid-day light streams in from the windows.

Botany Manor is one of truest cozy games I've run into, and not in all the most obvious ways you'd imagine. It promotes accessibility in every definition of the word, it showcases that puzzle difficulty does not define puzzle satisfaction, and it does it all while telling a powerfully defiant narrative. It at times leans into too cozy for its own good and its laidback vibes may not be for everyone, but if you're the type to be happy to watch a breeze wash over a field of flowers for a couple of hours, Botany Manor may just be the game for you.


Video Games Are Good and Botany Manor is . . . GREAT. (8/10)


+ an accessible-in-nearly-every-way puzzle game, beautiful painterly art style, an empowering and compelling narrative


- some deeper challenge would've been appreciated, the experience is over before you know it, fully laidback vibes may be too laidback for some


The key art for Botany Manor. A lightly overgrown manor's front lawn, complete with a ringed hedge surrounding a stone fountain. Yellowing trees dot the landscape, as do potted plants. The game's title floats above the scene with a small potted plant icon between the words "Botany Manor".

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2 Comments


Guest
Apr 11

Thanks to your review, I just got this for my partner, who is a botanist, while they're out sick after having some wisdom teeth extracted. Hopefully the cozy vibes of the manor will help them through the recovery a bit! 💚

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julcooper
Apr 15
Replying to

This is so cute 😖

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